Heroes, it is said, are born of great crises. This dilemma of ours developed Tom's genius.
"I'll have that fox," he said, when the traps failed; and when the hound proved of no avail he still said: "I'll have him yet."
"But how?" I asked. Tom said he would show me. He brought a two-bushel basket and went out into the fields. In the stone-heaps, and beside the old logs and stumps, there were dozens of deserted mouse-nests, each a wad of fine dry grass as large as a quart box.
These were gathered up, and filled the great basket.
"There," said he, triumphantly, "don't them smell _mousey_?"
They did, certainly; they savored as strongly of mice as Tom's question of bad grammar.
"And don't foxes catch mice?" demanded Tom, confidently.
"Yes, but I don't see how that's going to catch the fox," I said.
"Well, look here, then, I'll show ye," said he. "Play you's the fox; and play 't was night, and you was prowling around the fields.
Go off now out there by that stump."
Full of wonder and curiosity, I retired to the stump. Tom, meantime, turned out the mass of nests, and with it completely covered himself. The pile now resembled an enormous mouse-nest, or rather a small hay-cock. Pretty soon I heard a low, high-keyed, squeaking noise, accompanied by a slight rustle inside the nest.
Evidently there were mice in it; and, feeling my character as fox at stake, I at once trotted forward, then crept up, and, as the rustling and squeaking continued, made a pounce into the grass--as I had heard it said that foxes did when mousing. Instantly two spry brown hands from out the nest clutched me with a most vengeful grip. As a fox, I struggled tremendously. But Tom overcame me forthwith, choked me nearly black in the face, then, in dumb show, knocked my head with a stone.
"D'ye see, now!" he demanded.
"But a fox would bite you," I objected.
"Let him bite," said Tom. "I'll resk him when once I get these two bread-hooks on him. And he can't smell me through the mouse-nests either."
That night we set ourselves to put the stratagem in operation. With the dusk we stole out into the field where the stone-heaps were, and where we had oftenest heard foxes bark. Selecting a nook in the edge of a clump of raspberry briars which grew about a great pine-stump, Tom lay down, and I covered him up completely with the contents of the big basket. He then practiced squeaking and rustling several times to be sure that all was in good trim. His squeaks were perfect successes--made by sucking the air sharply betwixt his teeth.
"Now be off," said Tom, "and don't come poking around, nor get in sight, till you hear me holler."
Thus exhorted, I went into the barn and established myself at a crack on the back side, which looked out upon the field where Tom was ambushed.
Tom, meanwhile, as he afterward told me, waited till it had grown dark, then began squeaking and rustling at intervals, to draw the attention of the fox when first he should come out into the clearing, for foxes have ears so wonderfully acute, that they are able to hear a mouse squeak twenty rods away, it is said.
An hour passed. Tom must have grown pretty tired of squeaking. It was a moonless evening, though not very dark. I could see objects at a little distance through the crack, but could not see so far as the stump. It got rather dull, watching there; and being amidst nice cozy straw, I presently went to sleep, quite unintentionally.
I must have slept some time, though it seemed to me but a very few minutes.
What woke me was a noise--a sharp suppressed yelp. It took me a moment to understand where I was, and why I was there. A sound of scuffling and tumbling on the ground at some distance assisted my wandering wits, and I rushed out of the barn and ran toward the field. As I ran, two or three dull whacks came to my ear.
"Got him, Tom?" I shouted, rushing up.
Tom was holding and squeezing one of his hands with the other and shaking it violently. He said not a word, and left me to poke about and stumble on the limp warm carcass of a large fox that lay near.
"Bite ye?" I exclaimed, after satisfying myself that the fox was dead.
"Some," said Tom; and that was all I could get from him that night.
We took the fox to the house and lighted a candle. It was the "silver-gray."
Tom washed his bite in cold water and went to bed. Next morning he was in a sorry and a very sore plight. His left hand was bitten through the palm, and badly swollen. There was also a deep bite in the fleshy part of his right arm, just below the elbow, several minor nips in his left leg above the knee, and a ragged "grab" in the chin. These numerous bites, however, were followed by no serious ill effects.
The next day, Tom told me that the fox had suddenly plunged into the grass, that he had caught hold of one of its hind legs, and that they had rolled over and over in the grass together. He owned to me that when the fox bit him on the chin, he let go of the brute, and would have given up the fight, but that the fox had then actually attacked him. "Upon that," said Tom, "I just determined to have it out with him."
Considering the fact that a fox is a very active, sharp-biting animal, and that this was an unusually large male, I have always thought Tom got off very well. I do not think that he ever cared to make a fox-trap of himself again, however.
We sold the fox-skin in the village, and received thirteen dollars for it, whereas a common red fox-skin is worth no more than three dollars.
How, or by what wiles that fox got the turkeys out of the high butternut, is a secret--one that perished with him. It would seem that he must either have climbed the tree, or else have practiced sorcery to make the turkey come down.
THE HORSE THAT AROUSED THE TOWN
By Lillian M. Gask
A wise and just monarch was the good King John. His kingdom extended over Central Italy, and included the famous town of Atri, which in days gone by had been a famous harbour on the shores of the Adriatic. Now the sea had retreated from it, and it lay inland; no longer the crested waves rolled on its borders, or tossed their showers of silver spray to meet the vivid turquoise of the sky.
The great desire of good King John was that every man, woman and child in his dominions should be able to obtain justice without delay, be they rich or poor. To this end, since he could not possibly listen to all himself, he hung a bell in one of the city towers, and issued a proclamation to say that when this was rung a magistrate would immediately proceed to the public square and administer justice in his name. The plan worked admirably; both rich and poor were satisfied, and since they knew that evil-doers would be quickly punished, and wrongs set right, men hesitated to defraud or oppress their neighbours, and the great bell pealed less often as years went on.
In the course of time, however, the bell-rope wore thin, and some ingenious citizen fastened a wisp of hay to it, that this might serve as a handle. One day in the height of summer, when the deserted square was blazing with sunlight, and most of the citizens were taking their noonday rest, their siesta was disturbed by the violent pealing of the bell.
"Surely some great injustice has been done," they cried, shaking off their languor and hastening to the square. To their amazement they found it empty of all human beings save themselves; no angry supplicant appealed for justice, but a poor old horse, lame and half blind, with bones that nearly broke through his skin, was trying with pathetic eagerness to eat the wisp of hay. In struggling to do this, he had rung the bell, and the judge, summoned so hastily for so slight a cause, was stirred to indignation.
"To whom does this wretched horse belong?" he shouted wrathfully.
"What business has it here?"
"Sir, he belongs to a rich nobleman, who lives in that splendid palace whose tall towers glisten white above the palm-grove," said an old man, coming forward with a deep bow. "Time was that he bore his master to battle, carrying him dauntlessly amid shot and shell, and more than once saving his life by his courage and fleetness.
When the horse became old and feeble, he was turned adrift, since his master had no further use for him; and now the poor creature picks up what food he can in highways and byways."
On hearing this the judge's face grew dark with anger. "Bring his master before me," he thundered, and when the amazed nobleman appeared, he questioned him more sternly than he would have done the meanest peasant.
"Is it true," he demanded, "that you left this, your faithful servant, to starve, since he could no longer serve you? It is long since I heard of such gross injustice--are you not ashamed?"
The nobleman hung his head in silence; he had no word to say in his own defence as with scathing contempt the judge rebuked him, adding that in future he would neglect the horse at his peril.
"For the rest of his life," he said, "you shall care for the poor beast as he deserves, so that after his long term of faithful service he may end his days in peace."
This decision was greeted with loud applause by the town folk, who gathered in the square.
"Our bell is superior to all others," they said to each other, with nods and smiles, "for it is the means of gaining justice, not only for men, but for animals too in their time of need."
And with shouts of triumph they led the old war-horse back to his stable, knowing that for the future its miserly owner would not dare to begrudge it the comfort to which it was so justly entitled.
WHAT GINGER TOLD BLACK BEAUTY